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Comets: Small Bodies / Big Impacts
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6 Aug 2014 Rosetta Arrives at Target Comet
After a decade-long journey chasing its target, the European Space Agency's Rosetta, carrying three NASA instruments, became the first spacecraft to rendezvous with a comet. The last of a series of 10 rendezvous maneuvers that began in May, to adjust Rosetta's speed and trajectory to gradually match those of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, occurred today (Aug. 6, 2014).
24 Jul 2014 NASA's Mars Spacecraft Maneuvers to Prepare for Close Comet Flyby
NASA is taking steps to protect its Mars orbiters, while preserving opportunities to gather valuable scientific data, as comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring heads toward a close flyby of Mars on Oct. 19. The comet's nucleus will miss Mars by about 82,000 miles (132,000 kilometers), shedding material hurtling at about 35 miles (56 kilometers) per second, relative to Mars and Mars-orbiting spacecraft. At that velocity, even the smallest particle -- estimated to be about one-fiftieth of an inch (half a millimeter) across -- could cause significant damage to a spacecraft.
24 Jul 2014 Surface Impressions of Rosetta's Comet
Surface structures are becoming visible in new images of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken by the scientific imaging system OSIRIS onboard the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft. The resolution of these images is now 330 feet (100 meters) per pixel. One of the most striking features is currently found in the comet's neck region. This part of 67P seems to be brighter than the rest of the nucleus.
23 Jul 2014 NEOWISE Spots a Comet That Looked Like an Asteroid
Comet C/2013 UQ4 (Catalina) has been observed by NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) spacecraft just one day after passing through its closest approach to the sun. The comet glows brightly in infrared wavelengths, with a dust tail streaking more than 62,000 miles (100,000 kilometers) across the sky. Its spectacular activity is driven by the vaporization of ice that has been preserved from the time of planet formation 4.5 billion years ago.
17 Jul 2014 Rosetta Spacecraft Approaching Twofold Comet
As the European Space Agency's spacecraft Rosetta is slowly approaching its destination, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the comet is again proving to be full of surprises. New images obtained by OSIRIS, the onboard scientific imaging system, confirm the body's peculiar shape hinted at in earlier pictures. Comet 67P is obviously different from other comets visited so far. The comet's nucleus consists of two distinctly separated parts.
15 May 2014 Rosetta's Target Comet Becoming Active
The target of ESA's Rosetta mission has started to reveal its true personality as a comet, its dusty veil clearly developing over the last six weeks.
6 May 2014 A New Meteor Shower in May?
There could be a new meteor shower this year: the May Camelopardalids, caused by dust from periodic comet 209P/LINEAR. No one has ever seen it before, but this year the Camelopardalids could put on a display that rivals the well-known Perseids of August. The best time to look is during the hours between 6:00 and 08:00 Universal Time on May 24th or between 2 and 4 o'clock in the morning Eastern Daylight Time.
27 Mar 2014 Rosetta Sets Sights on Destination Comet
The Rosetta spacecraft has caught a first glimpse of its destination comet since waking up from deep-space hibernation on Jan. 20. The first images of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko were taken on March 20 and 21 by the Optical, Spectroscopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS) wide-angle camera and narrow-angle camera. Rosetta is an international mission spearheaded by the European Space Agency with support and instruments provided by NASA.
27 Mar 2014 NASA's Hubble Space Telescope Spots Mars-Bound Comet Sprout Multiple Jets
NASA released Thursday an image of a comet that, on Oct. 19, will pass within 84,000 miles of Mars -- less than half the distance between Earth and our moon. The image on the left, captured March 11 by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, shows comet C/2013 A1, also called Siding Spring, at a distance of 353 million miles from Earth. Hubble can't see Siding Spring's icy nucleus because of its diminutive size. The nucleus is surrounded by a glowing dust cloud, or coma, that measures roughly 12,000 miles across.
28 Jan 2014 NASA Preparing for 2014 Comet Watch at Mars
This spring, NASA will be paying cautious attention to a comet that could put on a barnstorming show at Mars on Oct. 19, 2014. On that date, comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring will buzz Mars about 10 times closer than any identified comet has ever flown past Earth. Spacecraft at Mars might get a good look at the nucleus of comet Siding Spring as it heads toward the closest approach, roughly 86,000 miles (138,000 kilometers) from the planet, give or take a few percent. On the other hand, dust particles that the comet nucleus sheds this spring could threaten orbiting spacecraft at Mars in October.
14 Nov 2013 MESSENGER Detects Comets ISON and Encke, Prepares for Closer Encounters
NASA's Mercury-orbiting MESSENGER spacecraft has captured images of two comets -- 2P/Encke and C/2012 S1 (ISON) -- setting the stage for observations later this month when both comets will be substantially brighter and much closer to Mercury and the Sun.
26 Jul 2013 Perseid Fireballs
In astronomy, there's nothing quite like a bright meteor streaking across the glittering canopy of a moonless night sky. The unexpected flash of light adds a dash of magic to an ordinary walk under the stars. New research by NASA has just identified the most magical nights of all. "We have found that one meteor shower produces more fireballs than any other," explains Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "It's the Perseid meteor shower, which peaks on August 12th and 13th."
25 Jul 2013 NASA's WISE Finds Mysterious Centaurs May Be Comets
The true identity of centaurs, the small celestial bodies orbiting the sun between Jupiter and Neptune, is one of the enduring mysteries of astrophysics. Are they asteroids or comets? A new study of observations from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) finds most centaurs are comets.
18 Jul 2013 Comet ISON Infographic
NASA has put together a colorful infographic that highlights ISON's journey from discovery to its perilous encounter with the sun in November. It also offers a snapshot of the 16 spacecraft (and a rocket and a balloon) that are tracking it.
16 Jul 2013 A Timeline Of Comet ISON's Dangerous Journey
A comet's journey through the solar system is perilous and violent. A giant ejection of solar material from the sun could rip its tail off. Before it reaches Mars -- at some 230 million miles away from the sun -- the radiation of the sun begins to boil its water, the first step toward breaking apart. And, if it survives all this, the intense radiation and pressure as it flies near the surface of the sun could destroy it altogether. Right now, Comet ISON is making that journey.
2 Jul 2013 Comet ISON Brings Holiday Fireworks
This July Fourth the solar system is showing off some fireworks of its own. Superficially resembling a skyrocket, comet ISON is hurtling toward the sun presently at a whopping 48,000 mph. Unlike a firework, the comet is not combusting, but in fact is pretty cold. Its skyrocket-looking tail is really a streamer of gas and dust bleeding off the icy nucleus, which is surrounded by a bright star-like-looking coma. The pressure of the solar wind sweeps the material into a tail, like a breeze blowing a windsock.
1 May 2013 Dusty Plasma Effects in Comets: Expectations for Rosetta
The changing dusty plasma environments of comets can be used as natural space laboratories for the study of dust-plasma interactions, and their physical and dynamical consequences. The forthcoming Rosetta-Philae rendezvous and lander mission will provide a unique opportunity to revisit the entire range of earlier observations of dusty plasma phenomena in a single comet, as it moves around the sun. Rosetta will rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in May 2014, at about 4 AU from the sun, deploy its Philae surface lander in November 2014, and escort the comet around the sun until at least December 2015.
19 Apr 2013 Comet ISON Meteor Shower
Anticipation is building as Comet ISON plunges into the inner solar system for a close encounter with the sun in November 2013. Blasted at point-blank range by solar radiation, the sungrazer will likely become one of the finest comets in many years. When NASA's Swift spacecraft observed the comet in January 2013, it was still near the orbit of Jupiter, but already very active. More than 112,000 pounds of dust were spewing from the comet's nucleus every minute. It turns out, some of that dust might end up on Earth.
12 Apr 2013 Comet to Make Close Flyby of Red Planet in October 2014
New observations of comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) have allowed NASA's Near-Earth Object Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. to further refine the comet's orbit. Based on data through April 7, 2013, the latest orbital plot places the comet's closest approach to Mars slightly closer than previous estimates, at about 68,000 miles (110,000 kilometers). At the same time, the new data set now significantly reduces the probability the comet will impact the Red Planet, from about 1 in 8,000 to about 1 in 120,000.
10 Apr 2013 Hubble Captures Comet ISON
This NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of Comet (C/2012 S1) ISON was photographed on April 10, when the comet was slightly closer than Jupiter's orbit at a distance of 386 million miles from the Sun (394 million miles from Earth). Preliminary measurements from the Hubble images suggest that the nucleus of ISON is no larger than three or four miles across. The comet's dusty coma, or head of the comet, is approximately 3,100 miles across, or 1.2 times the width of Australia.
15 Mar 2013 Sunset Comet
For a comet, visiting the sun is risky business. Fierce solar heat vaporizes gases long frozen in the fragile nucleus, breaking up some comets and completely destroying others. That's why astronomers weren't sure what would happen in early March when Comet Pan-STARRS, a first-time visitor to the inner solar system, dipped inside the orbit of Mercury. On March 10th, NASA's STEREO-B spacecraft watched as the comet made its closest approach to the sun only 28 million miles away. At that distance, the sun loomed 3 times wider and felt more than 10 times hotter than it does on Earth. The comet survived.
5 Mar 2013 Comet PANSTARRS Brightening
Far beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto, where the sun is a pinprick of light not much brighter than other stars, a vast swarm of icy bodies circles the solar system. Astronomers call it the "Oort Cloud," and it is the source of some of history's finest comets. One of them could be heading our way now. On Tuesday March 12, the comet known officially as comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS), will stand almost directly above the western horizon, less than 5 degrees to the left of a very narrow crescent moon.
5 Mar 2013 Comet to Make Close Flyby of Red Planet in October 2014
Comet 2013 A1 (Siding Spring) will make a very close approach to Mars in October 2014. The latest trajectory of comet 2013 A1 (Siding Spring) generated by the Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., indicates the comet will pass within 186,000 miles (300,000 kilometers) of Mars and there is a strong possibility that it might pass much closer. The NEO Program Office's current estimate based on observations through March 1, 2013, has it passing about 31,000 miles (50,000 kilometers) from the Red Planet's surface. That distance is about two-and-a-half times that of the orbit of outermost moon, Deimos.
6 Feb 2013 A Possible Naked-eye Comet in March
Far beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto, where the sun is a pinprick of light not much brighter than other stars, a vast swarm of icy bodies circles the solar system. Astronomers call it the "Oort Cloud," and it is the source of some of history's finest comets. One of them could be heading our way now. In early March, the comet will pass about 100 million miles from Earth as it briefly dips inside the orbit of Mercury. Most experts expect it to become a naked-eye object about as bright as the stars of the Big Dipper.
5 Feb 2013 NASA's Deep Impact Spacecraft Eyes Comet ISON
NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft has acquired its first images of comet C/2012 S1 (ISON). The images were taken by the spacecraft's Medium-Resolution Imager over a 36-hour period on Jan. 17 and 18, 2013, from a distance of 493 million miles (793 million kilometers). Many scientists anticipate a bright future for comet ISON; the spaceborne conglomeration of dust and ice may put on quite a show as it passes through the inner solar system this fall.
10 Jan 2013 Three Views of Comet C/2012 K5 (LINEAR)
While we're all waiting with bated breath to see what Comet ISON decides to do in 2013, the Solar System is continuing to throw ice balls our way. The latest one keeping astronomers busy is Comet C/2012 K5 (LINEAR), which has been visible in the sky for the last couple of weeks, and should keep us entertained for a few more.  In late December, the comet was a fairly compact iceball, but it flared up nicely in early January, producing a sizable tail, well worth searching for with a set of binoculars or small telescope.
7 Jan 2013 Alien Comets Swarm Around Other Stars
New observations of six stars show they too have comets orbiting them, which indicates stars with comets may be as common as stars with planets...and those number in the hundreds of billions!
11 Dec 2012 A New Meteor Shower in December?
If you're outdoors after sunset this week, be alert for meteors. Not only is the Geminid meteor shower active as Earth passes through a stream of debris from "rock comet" 3200 Phaethon, but also, say forecasters, a new meteor shower could make an appearance.  "The source of the new shower is Comet Wirtanen," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "Dust from this comet hitting Earth's atmosphere could produce as many as 30 meteors per hour."
16 Nov 2012 How to Watch the Leonid Meteor Shower This Weekend
From Friday, November 16 to Sunday, November 18 the Leonid meteor shower will be at its peak, with 20 to 30 or so shooting stars visible per hour.  If you've ever wanted to sit outside and soak up a meteor shower, this is your big chance: the Moon is new, so it won't interfere at all with the shower.
2 Nov 2012 Scientists Monitor Comet Breakup
The Hergenrother comet is currently traversing the inner-solar system. Amateur and professional astronomers alike have been following the icy-dirt ball over the past several weeks as it has been generating a series of impressive outbursts of cometary-dust material. Now comes word that the comet's nucleus is splitting apart.
12 Oct 2012 The Orionid Meteor Shower
Every year in mid-to-late October, Earth passes through a stream of dusty debris from Comet Halley, and the pre-dawn sky lights up with a pretty display of shooting stars. "We expect to see about 25 meteors per hour when the shower peaks on Sunday morning, Oct 21st," says Bill Cooke, the head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "With no Moon to spoil the show, observing conditions should be ideal."
25 Sep 2012 Big Sun-Diving Comet Discovered
Currently located beyond the orbit of Jupiter, Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) is heading for a very close encounter with the sun next year. In Nov. 2013, it will pass less than 0.012 AU (1.8 million km) from the solar surface. The fierce heating it experiences then could turn the comet into a bright naked-eye object.
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Last Updated: 16 Apr 2014